Accent Discrimination Lawyer

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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What is Accent Discrimination?

Accent discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates against certain individuals because of their strong accents.  However, a caveat to the rule against accent discrimination is that an employer may not discriminate based on a person's accent if the accent doesn't materially interfere with their job performance.  Therefore, whether accent discrimination has occurred depends on the duties and tasks assigned to an employee. 

What Types of Positions Might be Exempt?

Employers that have employees in the following positions might have grounds for dismissing an employee because of a strong accent.  These include:

However, these positions must still be evaluated to determine whether an employee is not capable of performing their job.  

How Could An Employee Determine if He or She Has an Accent Discrimination Case?

There are a number of factors that a court could analyze to determine if accent discrimination exists:

What Accommodations Could Employees with Accents Receive?

First, note that accents are an aspect of national origin discrimination, so unlike disability discrimination, the employer has no legal duty to provide reasonable accommodation. However, an employer is more likely to win a case regarding accent discrimination if the employer tried to work out a solution with the employee before the lawsuit began.

Since accents are tied to language, an employer could offer English or public-speaking classes to an employee with an accent. Employers should either wait for a complaint from a customer or be diplomatic about how they approach employees about English courses though, since the employee might take offense and the employer’s offer could backfire in the form of another lawsuit. 

Do Employers Have Any Other Defenses?

Employers can allege one of two defenses. First, that the employee’s accent is so heavy that customers cannot understand the employee. However, this defense only relates to positions where customer interaction is required for job performance.

Second, accent discrimination is part of national origin discrimination, so breaking the link between national origin and accent is a valid strategy for employers to fight off discrimination charges.

For example, if the employer can show the accent is simply part of a larger communication problem the employee has, then the employer could not be liable for national origin discrimination.

What Steps Should I Take?

An employee that feels they have been discriminated against based on accent discrimination has several options available.  These include:

Should I Consult an Attorney?

An employment attorney experienced in employment discrimination can be extremely valuable in assisting any employee in accent discrimination issues.  The filing of a complaint and gathering of relevant evidence requires an attorney with experience.  In addition, an experienced attorney can help to guide employees in any settlement arrangements.

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Last Modified: 04-24-2013 10:57 AM PDT

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